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Federal Health Officials Visit Seattle To Promote A New Patient Care Initiative

Ruby de Luna

Federal health officials are in Seattle today to promote a new initiative to improve patient care in hospitals. KUOW's Ruby de Luna reports that part of the goal is to reduce hospital re–admissions among elderly people.


It's estimated that one out of five Medicare patients that are discharged from the hospital comes back. At Group Health, doctors and nurses noticed that a significant number of patients were coming back within a week. Barbara Wood is Director of Complex Care Management at Group Health. She says providers wanted to know why this was happening.

Wood: "And our hypothesis is something failed in the discharge that as they were discharged, whatever they needed to have happen at the next level didn't happen."

It turns out patients sometimes didn't fully understand what happened to them at the hospital. No surprise, especially if they had to undergo a lot of tests or if they had been heavily drugged. As a result, they might not remember their follow–up instructions, or when their next appointment was. So Group Health came up with four things to do before a patient leaves the hospital.

Wood: "We coach the patient and the family about what to expect, about what medications they should be taking, red flags they should be looking for. We're coaching them on how to tell their story at the next level of care."

This story is key. The better patients understand their own story, the better they're able to tell their doctor what happened to them at the hospital. That way, the doctor is on the same page when it comes to the patient's follow up care. It's this seamless transition that Group Health hopes will reduce re–admissions.

It sounds simple: it's not that doctors and nurses don't tell patients what's going on, it's how they tell it. Wood says they had to learn to talk to patients in a different way. Instead of just firing off a list of patient care instructions, they now pull up a chair and have conversation.

Wood: "Some of what we found was that we had to do it in a much more focused way, we had to do it in a more patient–friendly way, we had to do it in language that they understand. And sometimes for some patients and family, they need to hear it more than once."

Federal officials want to see more of these examples in hospitals all over the country. Jonathan Blum is director for the Center of Medicare Management. He's in Seattle to highlight "Partnership for Patients," a new initiative to give hospitals the support and resources to improve patient safety.

Blum: "What we really want to see is hospitals designing for themselves and recognizing what issues, what system changes need to happen to improve care."

Specifically, the initiative's goal is to reduce hospital–acquired conditions by 40 percent. Those would be things like hospital–related infections. The initiative also aims to reduce hospital readmissions by 20 percent. The Department of Health and Human Services plans to invest up to a billion dollars toward these efforts. The initiative is part of the federal health care law that was enacted last year.

Blum: "When patients go back to the hospital, that increases Medicare costs so this is not just about creating a safer environment for patients, but it's also making our health care system more affordable."

To date, more than 1,300 hospitals around the country have pledged to join the initiative. The partnership is designed to help hospitals ramp up to 2013 — that's when hospitals are expected to lower readmission rates and cut down medical mistakes. If they don't, their Medicare reimbursements will be reduced.

I'm Ruby de Luna, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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